Massachusetts Distracted Driving Laws
- Ban on all cell phone use (handheld and hands-free) for bus drivers (Primary Law).
- Ban on all cell phone (handheld and hands-free) for novice drivers (Primary Law).
- Ban on texting for all drivers (Primary Law).
Massachusetts Texting While Driving Stand
Advocates of texting and driving legislation in Massachusetts have won a small victory recently in the state’s legislature, as the Joint Committee on Transportation unanimously passed a handheld voting bill on January 26th, though three members abstained from voting. The Joint Committee’s speakers were oddly scarce, considering the gravity of the issue; there was only one speaker present, Mr. Jerry Cibley, who spoke eloquently about his son’s death in a car accident and how the crash was caused by distracted driving.
Though Mr. Cibley was the only speaker, he wasn’t alone: a few lobbyists did come out to the hearing concerning the new law, though they did not have any speeches to offer. The lobbyists did draw some criticism from Re. James Miceli.
All in all, four bills were put forth in 2011-2012 looking to limit the presence of handheld cell phones on the road. Three of the bills called for an all-out ban of talking while driving through school zones, while the other looked to block young drivers from using their phones at all on the road. These bills are currently being considered, but here are the prohibitions imposed by the bill that was just passed by the Legislature.
- The use of mobile phones, whether texting or calling, is completely banned for any drivers under the age of 18. The fines are identical to the previous fines, as well as the possibility of graduated license suspension.
- Finally, the bill also prohibits bus drivers from using a cell for any reason at all, and the fines here start at $500.
- All text messaging and any activities related to the internet on the phone have been banned. The fines would range from $100 (first offense) to $250 for a second and then finally $500 for a third.
The bills concerning stricter regulations for junior drivers under age 18 may also run into some problems due to the fact that the current law concerning junior drivers has had little effect. The law officially went into effect on September 30th of 2011, but by August of 2011 only a dozen junior drivers had their licenses suspended; in contrast, over 700 citations were handed out to texting adults. Some lawmakers may not see the junior driver cell phone ban as worth the effort and it may die in either the House or the Senate if it doesn’t muster enough support.
The success of the text messaging law is no surprise, considering the large amount of public support it received both on the street and in the halls of Massachusetts’ legislature. The signing was notable in that many members of the state who had lost family members to distracted drivers were present, adding emphasis and meaning to the governor’s signature.
The 2010 cell phone legislation was fraught with difficulty, not the least of which was differing opinions on laws regarding the age-based testing of elderly drivers and handheld mobile phone use for adults. The bill was stymied for some time until a compromise was reached, a compromise that drew some criticism from opponents, who argued that there was no difference between 17 and 18 and that restricting junior drivers from using handheld cell phones was only resolving part of the problem.
The issue dominated 2010 debate on the subject, and much of the debate hinged on whether or not a cell phone and texting use could be considered primary enforcement. The law originally cited the violation as secondary enforcement in order to quell concerns of racial profiling, but many Senators, including Senator Mark Montigny, argued that making it a violation of secondary enforcement would render the law ineffective. He also pushed for stricter regulations on handheld cell phone usage but was only successful in getting the legislature to agree on upgrading the violation to a violation of primary enforcement.
This 2010 legislation was considered a hallmark victory for the supporters of cell phone legislation in the state, who had been making scattered success in passing laws in cities concerning cell phone use while driving. The legislation was in part fueled by more local laws in cities across Massachusetts that had chosen to enact their own policies concerning distracted driving, text messaging, and cell phone uses. The biggest victories in 2010 had been in New Bedford and Boston; New Bedford approved a text messaging ban on April 22nd, spurred on by a video that showed a school bus driver talking on a cell phone while driving a bus full of students. Medford and Boston also approved bans on text messaging in June and December, respectively, and all of the cities cited the state’s inability to come up with a state-wide text messaging law as their incentive to act.
These city-wide ordinances came into effect after almost two years of inaction in the state’s House and Senate. Bills concerning text messaging and cell phones had been drafted and brought forth before the Legislature, but each time the bills had been defeated or shelved due to concerns with the bill or provisions that the legislation was irrelevant to the task at hand. A number of bills had been brought up and defeated in both the House and the Senate since 2007, prompted by a number of tragedies that were believed to have been linked to cell phone use while driving.
Massachusetts doesn’t have any current handheld bans in place for cell phones. Drivers under the age of 18 and bus drivers are prohibited from using cell phones while driving though. There is also a primary texting ban for all drivers in the state.